Change in official travel policies

It never ceases to amaze, the things this government considers important and urgent.

Having come to office lambasting its predecessor in office for lavish official travel with no reporting on expenditures to the public, the FNM government has now revealed a Cabinet decision taken sometime last year which was never reported to the public.

This decision increased travel allowances for members of Cabinet.

Further, the new policy introduced provisions for spouses to accompany ministers on official travel twice per year, up from the once previously in practice, and to receive a per diem allowances of $100.

This government has proved as opaque as its predecessor in accounting for its official travel notwithstanding its pledge to do otherwise.

Without providing an accounting and report for their past extensive and not always unmistakably required overseas official travel, the government secretly increased provisions for more of the same and then some.

This follows upon the government’s announced $4 million increase in the budget’s travel provision last November. At the time the increase was largely attributed to hurricane rescue and relief.

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd owned up to chairing the Cabinet committee that made the recommendation for increases in travel allowances.

The minister indicated that the increases related to spousal travel were to permit spouses to collaborate with the spouses of other dignitaries.

That the government would increase travel per diem allowances for ministers at a time when many question the rationale and justification for so much official travel shows a patent disregard for the views of the electorate.

The practice of spouses accompanying Cabinet ministers and indeed heads of government to official meetings is not new.

In good economic times it was accepted as customary that an airline ticket would be provided to an accompanying spouse of a minister not more than once per year.

Accompanying official spouse travel requires hosts to create full itineraries for them.

These typically involve sight-seeing tours, visiting flower exhibits, museums and art and craft shows and attending other activities considered appropriate for women: like visits to schools, hospitals, children’s hostels and women’s shelters.

More recently, some attempt has been made to have spouses engage in discussions on how best they might collaborate among themselves to improve international efforts to alleviate poor or inadequate conditions.

That most if not all countries have government ministries, departments and agencies staffed by professionals to address these matters appears to escape the minds of some male members of government who believe that they must find something to engage wives accompanying them on official travel.

The truth of the matter is that increasingly, spouses – male and female – of government officials are professionals in their own right and not particularly interested in interrupting their work schedules to attend artificially staged meetings to collaborate on issues deemed fitting for them but in reality better left to qualified professionals.

That The Bahamas, with a sluggish economy, high unemployment and now facing new uncharted challenges as a result of Hurricane Dorian, must fund increased per diems for ministers, a doubling of spousal travel permitted and the introduction of spousal per diems is unconscionable.

This is especially objectionable as these initiatives in which spouses are reportedly to be engaged are highly unlikely to benefit The Bahamas.

That Lloyd and all of his Cabinet colleagues have no appreciation for the optics of this change in government travel policies is dumbfounding.

This is not the first time that the government’s inclination to increase the benefits and perks of office has been questioned.

Few will have forgotten the government’s forced retreat after the thoughtless announcement by the prime minister proposing increases to the salaries of Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament some two years ago, only months following the election of this government to office.

Fewer still have forgotten that just weeks ago, the government claimed to be unable to fund increases to civil servant pay.

Our advice to the government is that it is time to “wake up and smell the coffee” or as many say, “get real!”

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