Governance Expert, Nepal
A planned foreign junket by 16 MPs belonging major political parties in Nepal on March 16 was aborted at the last hour after the public heavily criticized political parties and MPs for not showing seriousness with their responsibilities and obligations. The MPs were planning to travel Zurich, Switzerland to attend a seminar on peace and constitution making organized by Nepal Transition to Peace with support from the Swiss government. At a time when they should be totally occupied with the task of drafting of the constitution and completing the ongoing peace process, MPs were busy preparing a junket that too at the eleventh hour of the constitution drafting process. By now it must have been clear on the real intentions and interests of the so called peoples’ representatives. However, we also need to bring into fore the role of the donors, particularly, of those who claim to be supporting Nepal’s transition process. What and why are they here for?
Let us rewind a little bit. From February 26-29 2008, at Dhulikhel Resort, UNDP/Constitutional Advisory Support Unit and GTZ had organized a conference on designing of the federal state in Nepal. The conference was participated in by three foreign resource persons and 21 foreign and Nepali participants. We are talking of the conference that was held before elections to CA. Without naming and shaming the participants, let me inform you that many of those Nepali participants are now the members of CA. What we are interested here is the summary of their conclusions and recommendation. If one turns to the page 14 of the conference document produced, courtesy UNDP and GTZ, this is what being written there:
“Most of the participants realized that tours abroad for some members of the CA might be arranged by foreign governments or organizations and which the member might not be able to resist. These trips could be disruptive of the work of the Assembly and of the responsibilities of member of members. Participants agreed that these trips be discouraged (emphasis added by the author).”
Let us fast forward the time and pick another document produced by a Nepali NGO, hopefully, not produced by foreign support. This time, it is the policy briefings from Martin Chautari. Let me again shamelessly extract a passage from the document (Attendance and Participation in the CA, Policy Paper No. 4, September 2010). “In terms of external factors, many also cited NGO and INGO programs as contributing factors to low attendance within the CA. Indeed, CA secretariat officials were specific in stating that low attendance of CA members was due to their going to programs organized by NGOs and donors, even to the extent of signing in but leaving the CA afterwards – something the CA Chair Nembang had warned against. Similarly, foreign visits of the members, again organized by INGOs and donors were also mentioned as another contributing factor for the absence of the members in the CA discussions.”
Martin Chautrai Policy Brief writes that it is difficult to trace out the exact number of MPs that have bunked CA meetings because of overseas junkets, for we do not have a system of keeping such records. However, quoting a news report published in vernacular Nepal weekly April 2010, the policy paper writes, “more than 165 CA members have gone abroad at least once after their election to CA; some up to 10 times. Most of these foreign trips have been arranged by INGOs and the donor communities (including foreign embassies) in Nepal, although the CA itself also had sent some 10 groups (totaling 70 members) to various countries in the name of study visits, bearing all the costs incurred. ” Assuming 601 to be the base figure, by April 2010, 165 MPs or slightly over 27 percent has made foreign junket tours. The specific findings were published in September 2010. We are now in 2012; one can fairly imagine what might have happened during the last one and a half years.
Similar to UNDP/GTZ report quoted above, Martin Chautari policy paper also add insult to the injury by stating that earlier CA members used to attend I/NGOs programs indiscriminately, now they have become more selective. I personally do not think the word selective needs to be defined here for the readers.
Now, I will draw the attention of the readers to another important document. Unfortunately, this time it is not in English language. The document I am referring to is the recently published Supreme Court Verdict sentencing our Minister for Communication, Mr. J. P. Gupta of corruption charges related to amassing disproportion amount of wealth. If one turns to page 12 of the 41 page court verdict, there is a line where Minister Gupta has sought to justify his sources of income, and also accepted by the Special Court, by arguing that 70 percent of the total per diem travel allowances received during foreign visits constitute his savings. With this 70:30 principle, more you travel abroad, more it contributes to legitimize your ill earned wealth.
By now, it should be clear to the readers why our ministers, MPs and public officials are so tempted to travel abroad.( Exclusive for telegraphnepal.com).