A senior Indian politician travelling on tax payer’s money breaks journey inexplicably in the fine cities of London and Paris. He (and she) ran up bills of thousands of dollars on hotel rooms and chauffeur driven limousines (a relatively big deal unlike in India) for no apparent, official reason. Why?
SPR has highlighted many instances of tax payer’s money being spent unwisely. Not all amounts involved in all cases are large but sometimes what's more worrisome is the sheer brazenness with which public funds can be frittered away, or so it appears. Particularly when politicians who spend public money for such jaunts could easily pay for their diversions from their own pockets.
We quote verbatim from the Government's own auditor - the Comptroller & Auditor General's (CAG) report released early in September.
- The Ministry of Commerce & Industry accorded sanction for the visit of the Commerce & Industry Minister to attend and address United States India Business Council’s 34th anniversary “Synergies Summit” at Washington DC and New York during June 17-22, 2009. Test check of the records of Consul General of India (CGI), Chicago revealed that the Post incurred expenditure of US $5,121 (Rs 2.47 lakh) towards hotel accommodation and transportation of the Minister in Chicago. CGI, Chicago replied that a proposal has been sent to the Ministry of Commerce for issuance of appropriate sanction.
- Similarly during four conferences and bilateral meetings abroad, the Minister of Commerce and Industry along with his Private Secretary (PS) made routine halts in London though the sanctions did not provide for such halts and were also not part of the approved route fixed for travel by the Ministry of External Affairs. The Mission in London had to bear an expenditure of Rs $22,200 (Rs10.40 lakh) to meet expenses towards hotel accommodation, hiring of cars, mobile phones, cash allowance etc. The Mission stated (March 2010) that the concerned Ministry was being requested for their comments/issue of ex post facto sanction for regularization of expenditure.
- The Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas along with his Personal Secretary (PS) transited through Paris for both inward and outbound journeys while on official tour to Venezuela during May 2010. The transit stay in Paris was for four nights while the stay at the final destination was two days. The Mission in Paris incurred an expenditure of $15,000 (Rs 6.75 lakh) on hotel accommodation and a chauffeur driven car though transit through Paris was not provided for in the sanction accorded by the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas. The Mission did not furnish any reply with regard to the deviation from the sanction.
- The Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs and her PS visited New York during October 2010 to attend the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly. The travel to New York was performed from Delhi via London which was not covered by the sanction issued by the Ministry in September 2010. The Mission incurred an expenditure of $10,666 (Rs 4.80 lakh) for arranging hotel accommodation, cash allowance, hiring of transport etc.
We would not necessarily agree with all CAG reports. And have found them somewhat lacking, particularly in a recent report on sinking carrier Air-India. In this case, they appear to have sought answers and not found them. And by the way, why should such entrepreneurial behaviour not be replicated elsewhere? The Embassy of India, Paramaribo, Suriname (it’s good to know we have one there) constructed a swimming pool at the Embassy Residence at a cost of 100,000 Euros (Rs 64.15 lakh) in violation of "laid down norms" says the CAG in the same report. A pool which should not have been built has been. It’s good to know that our folks in Suriname are living the good life. So what if we are not.